The meaning of vulnerability comes from the latin word for wound. Meaning that we are open to being wounded when we are vulnerable, either emotionally or physically.
As life does, some recent events in my llfe have made me stop and think about things that affect us every day, and about just how vulnerable we really are, in all aspects of life.
My friends young dog died recently, accidentally and out of the blue. This young dog was just over two years old, and during her time on this earth she had taught my friend so much about vulnerability: taught her how to truly open her heart up, even though she knew that it would be broken one day. My friend just didn’t expect it to be so soon. At the time that I write this my friend is consumed by grief, she is in so much pain that nobody can help her. Her dog came into her life at a time of immense change, she became the being she loved the most in the world, and that little dog taught my friend so much about letting go, even before her sad death.
But the thing that got me thinking more than anything was that despite her pain, my friend has already told me that she wants to get another Welsh Terrier, that she cannot imagine her life without a Welsh Terrier. Even in all that pain she wants to open her heart up again, because she knows that by allowing herself to be vulnerable she will also experience happiness, and laughter, and the love that will bring; despite also knowing that her heart will be broken again at some time. How powerful was the message that little dog delivered? That to truly love we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the pain that one day that love is likely to bring.
The idea of vulnerability in any relationship is a big one, but the idea of it after infidelity has been added to the mix makes allowing ourselves to be vulnerable almost impossible at times. So all of this upset got me thinking about how vulnerable we all are, every day, and how vulnerable we all have to be to truly love and experience life. It made me wonder: When you have been betrayed by your spouse does the fear of being vulnerable stop us from truly loving again? It is complicated.
In the modern world vulnerability has become something to be considered as a weakness. It has become something to which we should be strong and build barriers to ensure that we do not get hurt. When in fact I think that the opposite is true: it takes true courage and strength to allow yourself to be vulnerable again. To step off that ledge, go over that precipice, to lower those barriers opening yourself up to the possibility of being hurt; but understanding that even if you do you will surive.
Where infidelity is concerned I believe that vulnerability becomes more complex, because we have already allowed ourselves to be vulnerable with someone who then destroyed the world as we knew it. How then do we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with them again? Surely that is insanity! But if we don’t how will we move forward in the relationship and feel love again? Feel companionship again?Feel intimacy again? Some people will read this and think ‘I am not letting barriers down again.!’ So how will the relationship grow? What will the relationship be? Very early on my journal I wrote:
I could still have a good life financially, with security and companionship; it just won’t be that ‘all-consuming love’ anymore. I am sad about that.’
I looked at the practical things that could keep me there, because I was so afraid to admit to love being the thing that kept me there, but the telling phrase (although I didn’t realise it at the time) was ‘I am sad about that.’ I wouldn’t have felt sadness if I didn’t feel love.
I have been writing this post for over a month! Because there is so much that I want to write about, but I also know it is a difficult subject, and difficult to read if you are currently caught up in the maelstrom of madness that I was caught up in all those years ago. So perhaps the best way to approach it is to just apply vulnerability to our story:
Looking back now on our relationship before ‘The War’ it was very co-dependent; we still depend on each now, but the difference is I don’t depend on Danny for my emotional security. He gives me emotional support but I have learnt that everything in life is transient, and as the old man said to me all those years ago ‘there are no happy endings.’ So whilst I love Danny with all my heart I am not dependent on him to make me happy. He is a contributing, important factor to my happiness, but only one of many: my animals, the view from my house, our son, the things I learn, the books I read, the things I achieve.
When the rug was pulled out from underneath me I was overweight and under-achieving. I was mixing with people who offered me no intellectual stimulation other than my friend Susan, and I had truly lost my way. Danny had his career but his fears and insecurity told him that he needed me to achieve in his career, and so on. I wasn’t just vulnerable I was co-dependent. But when Danny left I had to stand on my own two feet. He wasn’t there and I had to be able to survive. By the time he came back three weeks later the co-dependency was on it’s way out of the door. Not completely that only happened when I looked at myself in the the mirror that day.
At the very beginning allowing Danny to come home made me vulnerable. It opened me up to the pain of having to go to the house he shared with her and see how they had made a little home together, with the dressing gowns hanging his and her style on the back of the bedroom door.
Even though I was in a stong position: in that the worst had already happened, I loved Danny and that love made me vulnerable, because I was likely to be wounded again. And I was, over and over again as the months wore on. At the counsellors when Danny said he was worried about her; when I realised that the person I loved was not the person I thought he was, and probably never had been, when he told me he found it a ‘compliment’ that two women had been fighting over him, and so much more.
To have Danny back put me in the vulnerable position of leaving myself open to the possibility that he might lie again, meet up with her, make a fool of me again. I was leaving myself open to ridicule and judgement from others, including their pity, one of things I feared the most. I was so afraid (because we all know about fear ) but somewhere a part of me new that I needed to try and work with Danny to reconcile, because this would enable me to know that if I walked away I had done my best, and walking away was the right thing to do. But to do this I had to allow myself to be vulnerable again.
Given my mantra is: ‘If you don’t have yourself you have nothing’ then does that mean that by finding yourself and holding on to that you can never allow yourself to be vulnerable again? And if that is the case how does that work if you are trying to reconcile and rebuild a relationship? If reconciliation was not an option how does that work if you meet someone new? That is a hard one. I did find myself first, I knew that it was essential. But although I did that, I also worked at our relationship: part of finding myself was facing my fears, not caring what other’s thought, not allowing people to pity me. Realising that it was ‘my’ life and nobody eles’s. They could think what they wanted the only person that mattered where my life was concerned was me.
The great Brene Brown says that vulnerability is about ‘showing up and being seen’ but then goes on to say that ‘it’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.’
Well I had to do that, and I had to face my true fears about people judging me for having Danny back. And I know that so many of us have to face this fear, and allow ourself to become vulnerable at the very outset. But as Brene Brown also says ‘vulnerability is not about weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage’; and I learned over the years that actually I didn’t care about what people thought: it was my life and my decision. And to try and repair took courage, and as a result I was no longer vulnerable where what other people thought was concerned.
By allowing that vulnerability I had become stronger. But I had to do it first, and that is so hard.
Having thought about this for a while there are so many facets to vulnerability when infidelity has come to town: There is also the issue of allowing my love to grow for Danny again, to let my guard down, with that fear that he might do it to me again (yes of course I wondered that, don’t we all?), that I might be wounded again. But I chose to stay and give it a go: I set timeframes to see if our situation had improved, because if I was going to be committed to it then I had to allow time. Of course the first thing I did was find myself and by doing that I knew that I was stronger than I had been the first time round. And as a result I did not feel as vulnerable, because I felt more in control of my situation.
I kept the journal to keep me sane and help to keep ‘the demon’ under control. But throughout it all I loved Danny or, quite simply, I would not have been there. Writing my journal allowed me to be honest with myself, very early on I say I was vulnerable without even realising that I was. Yes I had my barriers up, of course I did; and I can, even today, put them back up; only this time instead I sit down and talk to Danny about how I feel and why; and I often initiate discussions about how he feels, because Danny is Danny and he still feels that he should be beating himself with a birch stick. I see his vulnerability and I work with him to understand it. Two months in to keeping my journal I wrote:
‘He said that the reason that he thought he would lose me is because someone will sweep me off my feet; someone who has not hurt me like he has, someone who can give me that ‘great love.’ I said that I don’t believe that ‘great love’ exists. What would stop them doing to me what Danny has done? Who is to say it would be any better?’
I was right. to be loved by someone else meant that I would have to allow myself to be vulnerable again, so writing this I sub-consciously knew that I may as well allow that with Danny. Yes he had let me down before, but people are human we all let each other down at times. I knew somewhere in my mind that because Danny was showing time and time again that he was contrite there was less of a chance of him letting me down again.
Writing this I realise that from Danny’s perspective he allowed himself to be vulnerable the minute he came back. He knew that there was a ninety per cent chance that we would not survive. But he gave up what he had with her to try. He made himself vulnerable from the minute he walked in the door: vulnerable to the comments from neighbours, and looks from friends and family. Vulnerable to my comments, to my rejection, to Ethan being so angry with him for months. He made himself vulnerable by admitting he was wrong, and even today he is vulnerable to the pain he feels about what he did. I can look now and see that takes courage.
Whilst I love Danny, and I am vulnerable in my love for him, because he makes me happy and makes me laugh and we have been together so long we have a comfortable’ness’ with each other; I am also strong enough to know that if he were not here I would survive. That knowledge allows my vulnerbility.
In the world today there is more depression, loneliness and disconnection than ever before. There is a theory that it is because people are afraid to allow themselves to be vulnerable; and I am writing this post for all those who are stuggling with that after infidelity. Remember the lesson the little dog gave: Yes you may well get hurt, but you can also have love and laughter and happiness in return; and you can become stronger, and learn so much. As with all philosophies: Where there is good there is bad.
Where there is vulnerability there may well be pain, but where there is no vulnerability there will be nothing.
Making This Better the book is now available including the journal entries for the first 5 years of our recovery & the whole 21 days of ‘The War’. Available internationally in paperback and ebook at Amazon and Barnes & Noble also available at Xlibris and Apple Books for iPad and Waterstones Bookstores for click & collect